Ryan James is right up there on the UK’s SUP racing scene. A powerful paddler who dominates long distance events on his 14ft Starboard weapon – he’s the man to beat on any start line. But it’s not just smashing out the miles that floats Mr James’ boat (or board); SUP Mag UK caught up with ‘da Bull from Dorset’ for a chin wag.
- How did you get into SUP and what appeals?
I got into SUP after a snowboarding injury to my AC joint. I used it for rehab after a friend got me a copy of Laird’s Force of Nature book. I really identified with his lifestyle choices; I have always been around the ocean and so it all just made sense (if you take out the American stuff).
- Endurance and long distance racing seems to be your thing. Do you SUP surf or is it just about chewing up the miles and standing on podiums?
I come from a swimming background where 200m butterfly was my event. My early days where filled with hundreds of K’s then I took up triathlon and the K’s continued. The endurance stuff I know how to train for as I’ve been doing it since I was four. I do surf; surprisingly I started on a 6.1ft reverse V thruster – surfing in Florida where I was at college. But my real passion is downwinding; going really fast on craft that are made to catch big bumps. I love my 14.8ft Starboard Point based on SIC’s (Mark Raphorst) F16 model. I also favour my Allwave Galea OC1 (outrigger canoe) and you know I love a good podium finish.
- Tell us a bit about your training regime. How does your average session go?
I try and train every day – two sessions if time allows. It’s all structured; I know what I’m going to be doing in six weeks time. At the moment I’m doing high sprint stuff with technical aspects – some races could be in and out through surf. This is the same prep for BOP Cali. For example: 4 x 1km @ 85% MHR (Zone 4) with three minutes recovery.
- You’re currently sitting pretty on top of the UK SUP Clubs race series – what’s your secret to consistently being the man to beat?
I do a lot of thinking and try to always have a plan. In the winter I’m still out training even in the hardest conditions when I know others aren’t – I know I’ve always got that over most.
- How long do you think you can carry on winning events?
Well Kalama just placed fifth at M2O (Molokai to Ohau) and he’s 50, so I am just going to keep going – I love ocean paddle sports. So as long as I look after my body the water will still be my playground.
- Do you see any young guns coming through the ranks to challenge your reign?
Yeah! I can’t ignore Aaron Rowe or Pete Kosinski. These guys are getting very quick, but as long as Aaron keeps eating his chicken nuggets I’m pretty safe!
- What’s been your favourite event so far and why?
Head of the Dart; so many paddlers in one place – it really shows the number getting involved in this sport and that’s what I love. Carbis Bay was a great event as it was combined with outrigger canoes, surf skis and prone paddle boards – celebrating the ocean together and opening the eyes of other sports enthusiasts to SUP.
- Do you have any favourite conditions for racing or are you happy with whatever Mother Nature bowls your way on the day?
Flat water is a grind – give me bumps and wind anytime. It gives me a chance to rest and use other skills flat water paddlers don’t have.
- What do you do in the off-season to keep motivated and ready for the main racing events through summer?
I paddle all through the year come rain, snow or shine. I do my long miles in the OC1. I run and swim a couple of times a week and do at least two strength and conditioning sessions per week as well.
- Are you paddling/training with anyone else?
Yep, I help coach the BaySUP squad so I paddle pretty regularly with those guys and Branksome Surf Life Saving Club (I join in their ski training sessions in my OC1).
- Do you have any plans for other long distance races in the world? If so, where?
I’ll compete in Battle of the Paddle again this year. It’s the best event in the world. The atmosphere is amazing; whether you are elite or amateur it’s a fantastic experience.
- What gear are you currently using and why?
My paddles are ZRE – different sizes for different conditions and race formats. I’ve tried other paddles but it’s never a ZRE. My fins are all from Black Project; I use the Maliko for distance and SUP Weed for downwind and technical events/training. Chris Freeman designs some of the best fins in the world. The boards I use are Starboard Sprint 14ft carbon for flat water – because it’s the fastest production board in the world this year so why not use the advantage. I use a 14ft Starboard ACE for ocean events as it loves bumps. If you’re going up or down wind there is no board faster (except for my ALL Wave OC1) it’s almost cheating! I also get help from RIZ board shorts – a great little eco boardshort company based in Covent Garden. H20-Prohydrate System take care of my fluid intake – even my hydration tests.
- How did their support come about?
Accidently actually. I bought myself a race board and invested in two ZRE paddles as I wanted to commit to the racing side. Nick Watt (The SUP Store.co.uk) mentioned that I was training pretty seriously and Starboard called me up and asked me to be a part of their team – I’ve been there ever since. They’ve always rewarded my commitment to the sport – I love the brand and can’t see that changing.
- You’re heavily involved with BaySUP and the stand up scene around Bournemouth and Poole. How did you get involved with them?
Nick Watt was one of the founding members and he was one of the first guys to sign me up. The club’s gone from strength to strength with a separate training membership this year as well as the social paddle membership.
- Which spots are on your bucket list for SUP missions in the future – UK or other?
M2O has to be at the top. I would love to do this; SUP, OC1 and OC6 with the best steerer in the world of course: Mr Steve West. Other places are the Mentawai Islands to get barrelled, although I will probably get the life beaten out of me trying! Fishhook in South Africa for downwind heaven.
- What’s on your agenda for the rest of your stand up 2014?
Winning my fourth National Championship title has to be at the top. Enjoying some late international races in California and maybe Hawaii.
- Tell us a bit about your coaching and how you help others to improve?
Well I hope it gives my athletes structure. Most people don’t know how to periodise their training and this is what I help them with. It’s absolutely vital to have the right sessions at the right time and know when to back off. This enables you to go fast when you need to. It has to be individual based on many factors: what their capacity for training is and how much time they have to recover.
- Give a brief rundown of the other sports you do (if any) and how that helps with your stand up paddling?
Swimming in the pool and open water – this is where I started. My parents spent about 15/20 years of early morning sessions so I feel I owe them for all their support – to stop swimming wouldn’t be right. I’m also just about to sign up for a free diving course, and learn a different skill entirely – I love the meditation aspect; lowering your heart and breathing rate gives you more control in extreme situations.
- Any final shout outs?
Big shout out to Steve West who constantly shares his unbelievable knowledge of the ocean with me and to my girlfriend Fay Roxburgh for putting up with the relentless training and when the chimp gets out of it’s box (you’ll understand if you read the chimp paradox by Prof Steve Peters). The support from all my friends and sponsors –specifically Nick (Watt) and (Matt) Frenchy as it’s their fault I’m still here.